They were first called out by their coaches and then by their teammates with some very harsh but very real tough love.
And then the starting secondary for the University of Manitoba Bisons football squad decided to take it one step further as a method of self-flagellation/motivation by assigning their own nickname to their unit.
(noun: a member of a family or other group who is considered undesirable or a disreputable person.)
Consider, then, Saturday afternoon’s 34-15 Homecoming Game win over the University of Regina Rams in front of an announced crowd of 4,890 at Investors Group Field the first chapter of the Bison secondary’s rebirth.
Manitoba’s defence — absolutely lit up in last week’s loss to Calgary — limited the Rams’ vaunted passing attack to just 209 yards and 344 total yards in helping push the club’s record to 3-2.
"This one’s on the defence," beamed Bisons head coach Brian Dobie afterward. "They’ve been under the gun. They’ve even been getting paranoid and started calling themselves ‘The Black Sheep’, whatever that means. Translate that whatever way you want, but I don’t think it comes out well in translation.
"But that win, absolutely, was on the defence. If we’re going to give wins to our offence when we’re racking up points then that win was on our defence."
The Bisons got a punt-block touchdown on the Rams’ second possession when Andrew Barry stuffed a kick that was recovered by D.J. Lalama for the opening score. Barry later rumbled in from a yard out for a 13-zip lead. Manitoba would then get three scores through the air with Jordan Yantz connecting with Matt Hallock, Andrew Smith and Bryden Bone for three, 89 and 26-yard yard strikes.
Hec Crighton candidate Anthony Coombs, meanwhile, finished with 104 yards rushing and another 20 through the air.
Regina’s attack was hurt in the second quarter when Bison defensive back Jordan Linnen was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Cayman Shutter, the leading passer in Canadian college football. Former Oak Park star — and Bison red-shirt — John Kiesman would replace Shutter and pass for one score and rush for 76 yards, but was also intercepted three times — twice by Connor Lesperance.
"Throughout the first couple of games our defensive back corps hasn’t been playing to our potential so we’ve been called ‘Black Sheep’ of the team and we’ve been using that as motivation, especially this week, to come in and watch a lot of film, a lot of extra practice," said Lesperance. "The DBs ourselves, without the coaches, have been meeting when we can between classes. We want to get out of that and step up our game for the rest of the season and on into November."
The Bisons play host to the UBC Thunderbirds next Saturday at 1 p.m. in their last regular-season home game before finishing up on the road at Saskatchewan and Alberta.
"Now we have momentum going into another home game against B.C.," said the Bisons’ Coombs.